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2010 Midsize Adventure Bike Comparison

Monday, July 19, 2010
“Meet in the Middle”

2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
The BMW F800GS and KTM 690 Enduro R both rank at the top of our list of favorite adventure bikes. But, which one is the best?
Setting out to do a comparison of adventure bikes is a tricky task. In a segment where there is really no definition of class based upon displacement or any other key factor, each manufacturer takes a design approach based more or less upon what its view of an adventure bike should be. That view can vary greatly, and so it should, just like the roads these bikes will travel.

In fact, it is likely that a potential buyer will probably be apt to consider different models within a single brand, such as the entire BMW GS lineup, versus similar models from a different brand. The Germans set out to give all their adventure touring bikes a certain feel, clearly true with our 2010 BMW F800GS test bike, while the neighboring Austrians approach the challenge from a very different perspective.

There is no denying that virtually BMW models are road bikes at heart (minus the one-off G450X). So much so that many have long felt that the GS line up represents some of the company’s best tarmac mounts. By contrast, the KTM 690 Enduro R always seems to have a dirt bike trying to burst out of it.

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2010 KTM 690 vs BMW F800GS Adventure Video
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Watch the strengths and weaknesses of these two adventure bikes in our 2010 KTM 690 vs BMW F800GS Adventure Video.
What we have are two bikes of similar displacement and cost, both billed as adventure bikes. At a casual glance it could be easy to assume that these two might have little in common, and that’s a strong argument. Yet, they are two models trying to carve out the relatively new niche of middleweight adventure bikes.

We decided to throw the two together for a week of riding on some of the best backcountry roads of Idaho just to see how well the two played together. As you may remember, we tested the Austrian machine just a few months ago during the 2010 KTM 690 Enduro First Ride and found plenty to like about it. As for the GS, it took top honors in the year end Best of 2009 Awards, claiming the Adventure Motorcycle and Bike of the Year categories.

2010 BMW F800GS

When MotoUSA’s Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, rolled up on the Beemer after a long haul to meet me in Boise, I was surprised to see the GS decked out in full hard luggage. In addition to a week’s worth of gear, there was also a case dedicated to camera, video and computer equipment (part of the whole traveling journalist gig). Much like the bikes, I was on the other end of the spectrum with only a backpack for my stint on the KTM. But from my Baja wanderings I am used to traveling light. With a Gore-Tex suit to serve as my basic outfit, that really only left me needing a few personals and some flip-flops to complete the kit.

2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
Our F800GS had to travel nearly 1000 miles just to get to the testing location, so it was strapped with full luggage and acted as the mule for all of our camera gear.
Isn’t adventure riding about being minimalist? Well for BMW the answer to that is no! A little luxury never hurt anyone and the middle child GS proves that. Along with the factory-offered bag system, our test bike included heated grips, ABS and a dazzling array of electronic displays that included a fuel gauge with an estimated remaining tank mileage calculation. That theme of luxury carries over to almost every aspect of the 800’s ride quality.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a look at what makes up this newest member of the BMW Gelände/Straße lineup. While having many of the creature comforts that we have come to expect from the GS, technically it is pretty much a clean-slate design. That means dispensing of both the Telelever and Paralever designs in favor of more conventional suspension and a chain final drive.

At the heart of it all is a very ordinary looking 798cc Parallel Twin motor. Forty years ago this engine configuration ruled much of the motorcycling world. Yet ultimately they were doomed by vibration and the progression of the larger Japanese fours. Once manufacturers were able to overcome the vibration issues, the motor design just never seemed to come back to prominence, probably overshadowed by the lure of sexy V-twins.

It may be oddest of all that BMW would be one to showcase such a design against their own heritage of opposed Twins. But here it is, fuel injected and putting out a very respectable claimed 85 horsepower with 62 lb-ft of torque at just 5,700 revs. It’s smooth, fast and without even a hint of vibration.

If there’s a knock against the motor is it simply that it lacks a little soul. No big power pulses here to get the adrenaline flowing. What it does have is a nicely crafted exhaust note that gives a rewarding little growl upon start up. More than once I walked around the back of the bike to try to figure out how such a note could come out of the very generic looking canister. At speed the sound is quickly drowned out by highway noise and so never becomes obtrusive.

2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
The BMW offers much better protection for the rider. However, it's best suited to blocking wind and rain rather than bombing through creeks.
Mated to a six-speed transmission, the 800 has very long legs. It is easy to find yourself at cruising speed only to look down and notice that it’s still in fourth gear. In fact without the aid of the gear position display I may have never even found sixth, partly due to the quietness of the motor. The smooth power delivery is a joy in traffic, stop and go situations require very little clutch modulation.

The triple disc brakes are strong and have decent feel. The ABS system can be disabled by holding the bar-mounted button down while turning the key on, or while at a standstill. This is really a must for off-road riding as the system kicks in pretty quickly, well before any serious lack of grip is noticed.

The spoke wheels are a 21/17-inch combo. The 150 series rear will be limited to a street or adventure style tire, but a full knobby could easily be mounted up front. This is a common practice with many dirt-bound adventure riders; run an aggressive tire up front for better braking and turning with a more street oriented tire in the rear to give a longer life span. Aggressive riding on the large bikes can go through rear tires pretty quick.

The suspension package features nine inches of travel in the front and 8.5 in the rear. The inverted 45mm Marzocchi fork looks like it is ready for some serious action, but that is mostly window dressing. Sadly it is completely non-adjustable. The soft spring rates let you know very quickly that obstacles are not to be tackled with aggression.

Similarly, the Sachs shock features preload adjustment only, although this can be accomplished by hand with a convenient knob on the right side. Street performance is great, but limited in the dirt, so overall action is just decent, but this is a package designed for comfort. Easy does it and everyone will remain happy.


2010 KTM 690 Enduro R Photo Gallery
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2010 BMW F800GS Photo Gallery
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Klim Adventure Rally Suit Review
klim adventure rally suit
Klim makes some of the most innovative, smart and useful enduro gear on the market. It prides itself on top materials, design and craftsmanship. I’ve been elated with almost every piece I’ve worn, so I’m always looking forward to the next great thing from the Idaho-based company. The most recent latest-and-greatest was the introduction of the Adventure Rally Jacket and Adventure Rally Pants, a combo that takes apparel engineering, and cost, to atmospheric heights.

Read the full Klim Adventure Rally Suit Review.
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Comments
James -Love you guys but you got it wrong!  July 27, 2010 10:35 PM
I love reading & watching all of your reviews Motorcycle USA! But this time you really got it wrong! You said you compared the KTM 690R with the BMW F800 based on being in a similar price bracket! Price should play a legit role in a review... but it shouldn't be the basis for comparing to completely different machines. How did you look at the KTM 690R and think... "This is an adventure bike!" It's not! The BMW F800 should be in a comparison with the KTM 990 & the BMW GS1200. If you're going to throw a 650 class bike into the comparison, the only one that would cut it as an adventure bike is the Kawasaki KLR 650. The KTM 690 is a Dual Sport. It should be compared to other big dual sports such as the Honda XR650L, the Suzuki DR650, and the Husqvarna TE630. The difference is an Adventure bike is one you take on a long distance Adventure! A big Dual Sport is a bike you enjoy riding for a day from your house out to the trails, and then back home again without having to load a bike on a trailer! Putting the KTM 690 into a comparison for an Adventure bike category is like picking on an apple because it's not an orange. You just got the classification wrong. Now I bet with an after market gas tank, seat, rally kit & heated grips you could make the KTM 690R into an adventure bike that's more fun than the F800. But the bike simply isn't set up to do that off the show room floor. I would love to see a true comparison of the Adventure Bikes. I'd really like to know which is better: the KTM 990 or the BMW F800. At the same time I'd really love to see a comparison of the big Dual Sports. My gut tells me the KTM 690R and the Husqvarna TE630 would be the leaders of the group... but I'd still like to see it! I've heard of guys desert racing the 690R & the TE630... I've never heard of anyone racing a F800! So please do these tests again, but do them right. Compare the bikes not based on price brackets, but on what they're designed to do. I look forward to your great work in the future.
Gritboy -Diggin the F800GS  July 20, 2010 09:30 AM
Looks like a great ride through Idaho. I've checked it out at several dealerships and talked a few owners and the F800GS sounds like a perfect adventure bike. Big, but not too big, and more dirt biased than say a V-Strom, yet with all those BMW amenities (at a price of course). The KTM is just too dirt oriented and they fuel range is restrictive if you're actually riding through multiple states...not likely with those ergos.